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Over 90 percent of ECG meters not calibrated

The raging controversy around ECG’s faulty billing of some consumers, arising out of a combination of factors, including a supposedly software defect and un-standardised metering, can be blamed on institutional failure on the part of the Ghana Standards Authority and the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC); Public Agenda’s investigations have revealed.

The Paper’s probe into the billing controversy has revealed that over 90 percent of the electricity meters imported into the country by all manner of persons (including people who have no idea about metering equipment), for public distribution are not calibrated to meet international and local standards, as required by law, and in accordance with the requirements of the Ghana Standards Authority.

The Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) is the national standards body established by the Standards Decree of 1967 (NLCD 199) which has been superseded by the Standards Decree of 1973 (NRCD 173). The Authority is also the custodian of the Weights and Measures Decree (NRCD 326, 1975). These legislations together mandate the Authority to undertake the following functions:

National Standards development and dissemination

Testing Services

Inspection Activities

Product certification scheme

Calibration, Verification and Inspection of Weights, Measures and Weighing and Measuring Instruments

Pattern approval of new weighing and measuring instruments

Destination Inspection of imported High-Risk goods

Promoting Quality Management Systems in Industry

Advice the Ministry of Trade and Industry, on standards and related issues

Public Agenda’s checks have however established that, in addition to the reported abuse of the meter procurement activities at ECG, the company has also failed to submit meters in its custody for calibration by the Standards Authority. Only a few of the meters have recently been sent to the Standards Authority for calibration.

Calibration is the activity of checking, by comparison with a standard, the accuracy of a measuring instrument of any type. It may also include adjustment of the instrument to bring it into alignment with the standard. It is like buying a watch and setting it to the local time to ensure that its reading aligns with the national reckoning of time.

“If we all refuse to set the time on the clocks we buy, then certainly we shall all have different time readings on our clocks, and one will be unable to tell which clock is giving the correct time” explained an industry expert, who spoke to the Public Agenda on condition of anonymity.

Calibration is very important in all manner of transactions that are based on measured volumes of tradeable, including oil, gas, water, and electricity. This is because even the most precise measuring instrument can be used to cheat if one cannot be sure that it is reading accurately.

This fact explains the practice in the downstream petroleum sector, where the Standards Authority calibrates the fuel vending machines of oil marketing companies every year. The industry regulator, the National Petroleum Authority, then follow-up with routine but unannounced inspections to ensure compliance.

Experts say, in the case of mechanical and electromagnetic meters, wear and tear, arising from continuous use can lead to wrong readings, and so they have to be re-calibrated after a reasonable period of use. The period is established on the basis of the stability of the instrument itself and a review of the calibration records that already exist to determine whether an adjustment is needed.

The internationally renowned, UK-based Optical Test and Calibration (OTC) organisation recommends a starting periodicity of 12 months for most instruments with an increase in calibration frequency (to 6 or 9 months) if adjustment is required, and a reduction in periodicity to 2 years after a sequence of annual calibrations has shown that adjustment has not been needed.

The situation in Ghana departs from the established best practice. Most meters are not calibrated, and even when they are, they are never re-calibrated throughout their lifetime.

The ECG claims it has its own laboratory to calibrate its meters, but that claim could not be verified by Public Agenda as at the time of filing this story. But even if that were the case, it raises the questions of integrity and public confidence which can best be addressed through third party verification – the very reason the Ghana Standards Authority was established by law.

It is indeed a grave failure on the part of the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) to have allowed the ECG to install meters that have not been independently calibrated. By failing to ensure the independent calibration of the installed meters, the PURC has clearly failed to protect consumers from the risk of being shortchanged through inaccurate meter reading.

Indeed, the inaccurate reading could also mean the ECG being shortchanged if the reading records lower than actual units of electricity consumption. Efforts to get the PURC to respond to these findings proved futile.

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